Reon Wikeepa, 42, couldn't be revived after saving his daughter from the waves at Mt. Maunganui. Image / Wikeepa Whānau via NZME
A pāpā from Tauranga who perished in a water accident at Mount Maunganui gave his life to save his daughter, lifting her onto rocks with his last bit of strength.
The distraught whānau of Reon Wikeepa is praising his bravery. They say the skilled swimmer and loving father gave his life for his family.
Surf lifeguards pulled Wikeepa, 43, unconscious from the waves on Saturday. He was given CPR but the rescuers were unable to revive him.
The machine operator was with his 16-year-old daughter, 14-year-old son, and several nephews when the water turned choppy near Moturiki Island.
Wikeepa's family told NZME his daughter got swept up in a rip and the father immediately returned to the moana to rescue her.
“He noticed that she was struggling and jumped in straight away, no second thoughts, and got her out of the rip by being under her to lift her out. He gave all his strength and energy in a sacrifice to save her.
“The family tried everything to help him out but the rip was too much and he went under.”
In an effort to save his father, Wikeepa's son leapt into the sea, held his father above the water and then pushed him onto a surf lifesaving boat.
“He is a hero like his father. It is a story of love of a whānau who would give everything for each other, including their lives.”
The family emphasised that, even if it hadn't been his family, Wikeepa would have tried to help anyone in need.
The body of the former Tauranga Boys College student and first XV player was at his parents' Ohauiti house, which was packed with relatives and friends.
After his tangi he will be laid to rest with his ancestors on Motiti Island.
“He is terribly missed by his mum, dad, sister and multitude of nieces, nephews and cuzzies,” the family said.
Reon Wikeepa, pictured with his son aged 14 years, mother Linda Wikeepa and daughter aged 16 years, died trying to save family members from the surf at Mt Maunganui. Photo / Wikeepa Whānau via NZME
Yesterday, Nikki Tuhakaraina, his sister, posted a memorial to her brother.
“It is with a shattered heart that I announce the tragic and sudden death of my brother and rock of our whānau, Reon Wikeepa.”
She said Wikeepa was being brought home to their parents’ for two nights before his final night on the marae at Motiti.
As a result of a storm Friday, there was a 1.5-metre surge on Saturday and a lot of water was moving through the moana, according to Jamie Troughton, chairman of the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service.
Troughton said Wikeepa's passing marked a devastating beginning to the summer patrolling season, and his death had a significant toll on club members.
"Unfortunately this all unfolded outside our patrolling area and out of sight, on the other side of Moturiki Island, but we got there as soon as we could, both with lifeguards on foot and with an IRB out through some challenging conditions." He told NZME.
“Our IRB crew picked the patient up out of the water and got him back to the beach as fast as possible and we were able to start resuscitation efforts straight away, alongside other emergency services.”
The club was now focused on supporting its lifeguards.
“It was a really raw, heart-breaking situation and it was impossible not to feel the grief and loss… Our hearts go out to the whānau.”